When the Academy Awards are announced next week, I'm expecting Biutiful starring Javier Bardem, directed by Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu (Babel, 21 Grams) and filmed near our flat to be nominated for at least two Oscar's - Best Male Actor and Best Foreign Film. It's one of the best films I've seen in a long time.
That said, I am hesitant to recommend it to anyone since it took me a week to recover from it. At one point I almost walked out because I couldn't take any more pain. It was such an emotional experience and the desperation I felt while watching the movie still haunts me.
The characters in the film are all illegal immigrants, people who come to Barcelona to make a better life but struggle on the fringes - the prostitutes, the factory workers, the middlemen selling whatever they can to make some cash. Inarritu used non-actors for 90% of the cast, which makes the film all the more powerful and disturbing.
It was striking to see Barcelona from this perspective because it's so often depicted as a romantic, perfect, clean city. But the Barcelona I know is much closer to city depicted in Biutiful - gritty, dark, rough, electric. There are more immigrants than people from Spain living here, intermingling and clashing, and the combined effect produces a culture that is dynamic, imperfect and alive.
Ironically, another movie also starring Javier and also partly filmed in our neighborhood, Vicky Christina Barcelona, depicts the opposite version of Barcelona. Here we find tourists sipping cava, reflecting on Gaudi's architecture and watching flamenco guitar. These scenes are also recognizable, but much of the city has been sterilized in Woody Allen's tale - a place of litter-less streets and where wealthy, good-looking people roam between urban cafes and their garden estates on the outskirts of town.
This Barcelona, while lovely to watch on film, is one I haven't encountered (although if I ran into Javier on the street and he propositioned me to get on his private jet for a weekend retreat, I'd say yes). For me, Barcelona is beautiful for its abundance of street art, not the few Gaudi buildings. And as far as I'm concerned, it's the dog shit, traffic, and intermingling of so many cultures on the noisy streets, all squeezed into a tiny amount of land with such rich history, that define Barcelona.